Mikel Arteta

PL Playback: London’s burning

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London is burning. Well, it is in the red half of North London and in the West. Both Arsenal and Chelsea look set to miss out on finishing in the top four this season as their dreadful recent runs continue with just three points for each from their last five games.

Chelsea’s defensive tactics were hammered by critics as they lost 1-0 at Manchester City, while Arsene Wenger‘s Arsenal reign appears to be coming to an end as they lost 2-1 at newly-promoted Brighton.

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London’s two most successful clubs aren’t quite in ruins, but they’re heading that way. Fast. The London giants are set to both finish outside the top four in the same PL season for the first time in 22 years.

Where has it gone wrong?

Let’s start with the bigger mess: Arsenal. The fact that they lost to Brighton 2-1 on Sunday was just the tip of the iceberg. Arsene Wenger’s presence at the club has once again created a highly toxic atmosphere and the players are underperforming. They have accumulated the lowest PL points tally at this stage of a season since Wenger arrived in 1996 and they’re 13 points off the top four with nine games to go.

“It’s the first time it happens in my whole career, I must say,” Wenger told Sky Sports. “It’s not easy, but I have enough experience and enough desire to turn things around and I must say that, at the moment, when you need to stay in the game we are making a few mistakes at the wrong moments. We have to stick together and focus. We have no other solution.”

He’s right. They don’t. That’s the problem.

Contracted through the end of the 2019 season, Wenger’s decision to sign a two-year contract extension last summer was both inevitable and a damning indictment that Arsenal have no plan for the future. Owner Stan Kroenke and Chief Executive Ivan Gazidis both took the easy option in offering Wenger a new deal to extend his stay at Arsenal beyond two decades and now they’re paying the price.

Thierry Henry, Mikel Arteta, Leonardo Jardim, Carlo Ancelotti and Joachim Loew are all said to be on the shortlist to take over from Wenger this summer, with the Henry and Arteta reportedly favored because they may at least get some patience from the Arsenal fans.

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Until Wenger is fired, he deserves respect. Of course he does. He changed the game in England forever when he arrived in the mid 90s and his legacy will remain mostly positive, no matter what happens in the final few months of this season. But he should go in the summer. 100 percent. The problem is, if he doesn’t want to leave, can Arsenal push him out of the door? Maybe not. After a week which saw Arsenal hammered in the League Cup final by Manchester City, then four days later in the league by the same 3-0 scoreline before being humbled by newly-promoted Brighton, there’s a danger of this being a knee-jerk reaction.

But come on. This has been coming for months, if not years.

Kroenke’s decision to hand Wenger the two-year extension show how much he values the Frenchman but even the expensive new signings this season and Mesut Ozil’s lucrative long-term contract have failed to quell the relentless tide gathering around Wenger’s midriff. Arsenal must now focus solely on winning the UEFA Europa League because that is the only way Wenger will save this monstrosity of a season and qualify for the UEFA Champions League again.

Moving west across London, Chelsea’s season hit a new low on Sunday at Manchester City. Yes, Antonio Conte‘s side only lost 1-0 to the champions elect, but the way he set his team up proved how far the reigning champs have fallen.

Like Arsenal, the situation has been unraveling for a while. Conte’s constant digs in press conferences at the Chelsea hierarchy tell its own story as the Italian coach seems to want out at the end of this season.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned ]

Five points off the top four with nine games to go, it seems likely that Chelsea will join Arsenal in missing out on the top four. That would be catastrophic given their incredible title win last season, but not unexpected.

The recruitment of new players has been slapdash at best and replacing Diego Costa and Nemanja Matic with Alvaro Morata and Tiemoue Bakayoko hasn’t worked well at all. Adding the likes of Davide Zappacosta, Danny Drinkwater, Ross Barkley and Antonio Rudiger just seemed like panic buys.

[ MORE: Conte defends defensive Chelsea ]

Conte was a frustrated man when asked about criticism of his team against Man City (it was described as “a crime against football” by pundits in the UK) as they didn’t have a shot on target and had just 29 percent of possession with Eden Hazard skulking around up front in a false nine position.

“I think you have to accept every criticism but I am not so stupid to play against Manchester City open and to lose 3-0 or 4-0,” Conte said. “If I remember well, two days ago, Arsenal played twice against them and then you criticize a lot Wenger because they concede three goals in only 30 minutes. The pundit has to use the head to understand when you speak about tactics because I think you must have knowledge to speak about tactics and not only to speak in a stupid way.”

Right now fans of Arsenal and Chelsea both feel stupid.


Manchester City may break every single Premier League record this season.

They’re on course to win the PL title at the earliest ever time with the most goals scored and with the most points and the largest-ever winning margin.

Pep Guardiola‘s side passed Chelsea into oblivion and he seemed more delighted with the style and patience his team showed than the win itself.

Asked by Pro Soccer Talk about City’s record-breaking 902 passes completed, the highest number by a PL team since Opta started collecting the stats in the 2003/04 season, Guardiola wore a beaming smile as his ideals are now clearly embedded within his players.

“We try to play with the ball. We try with our power like a team. Sometimes it is more complicated when teams are aggressive. They were so organised today, it is like they play against Barcelona in the Champions League,” Guardiola said. “We spoke to move the ball quick, one or two touches, and control the counter attack from Hazard and Pedro because they are so good at it. Now we need three or four victories to be champions.”

But it is that fact, being champions, which seems to resonate the strongest with Guardiola. He seems to prefer winning games playing how he wants to see his team play over racking up team records for goals, points and so on.

“What really matters is to be champions. I never spoke with the players about the records,” Guardiola said. “I never spoke we have to win the two games to achieve something. Against Stoke we are going to try and play like we play all season. After, at the end, we will see. But we are not going to play for the records. Records are always a consequence of what you have done but they are not the main thing.”


With nine games to go, nobody has a clue who two of the three relegated teams will be this season.

West Brom are gone, pretty much, but you can pick two of the following six teams at random: Stoke City, Crystal Palace, Southampton, Newcastle United, West Ham United and Swansea City.

Plus the likes of Bournemouth, Everton and Brighton could all still get sucked into the relegation battle. This is madness.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings

West Brom have won just three games all season long and Alan Pardew remains in a job for now but as soon as they are mathematically down you will see him fired. They are eight points from safety and time is running out after their narrow defeat at Watford.

As for the rest, Stoke City and Southampton played out a dour, nervous 0-0 draw at the weekend which summed up how scared both of those perennial midtable teams are of going down. Huddersfield and Newcastle were humbled by Tottenham and Liverpool respectively but the newly-promoted duo will be pleased to still be in with a chance of staying up with nine games to go. Crystal Palace are in with a shout of staying up after their terrible start to the season but Roy Hodgson knows he needs Wilfried Zaha back from injury, and fast, if they’re going to have any chance of survival.

Then there’s West Ham. What a mess. Co-owner David Gold, 81, was confronted by fans after their 4-1 drubbing at Swansea City at the weekend as the Hammers’ disastrous season spirals out of control under David Moyes. Their veteran signings aren’t working out and the fan unrest continues to build with the east London club just three points above the drop zone. As for the Swans, Carlos Carvalhal continues to work miracles in South Wales as he’s only suffered two defeats in 15 games in all competitions since taking charge. The Portuguese wordsmith has impressed mightily.

“We moved things around today, rested some players and I am very happy. Our level of intensity is very high and the players are in a very good way,” Carvalhal said after battering West Ham. “There are games where you must listen to the music of the opponent. We made West Ham dance to our music and it was rock and roll.”

Teams in the relegation battle will be listening to a mixture of smooth rock and heavy metal between now and May 13 as they aim to either calm their nerves for the impending battle, or wake themselves up from sleep-walking out of the Premier League and into the second tier.

Premier League Playback comes out every week as PST’s Lead Writer and Editor takes an alternative look at all the action from the weekend. Read the full archive, here

Mourinho: Celebration disagreement rooted in behavior, education

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Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola was the first to be asked about the post-match incident between his victorious visitors at Manchester United at Old Trafford.

United boss Jose Mourinho is alleged to have charged into the City dressing room, enraged at the volume of celebrations coming from within the visitors’ quarters.

[ MORE: Klopp responds to interview hubbub ]

What followed, again allegedly, was a brawl which included milk being thrown at Mourinho and a bloodied City assistant in the form of Mikel Arteta.

Mourinho said the incident is in the past, only offering this response to Guardiola’s assertion that the celebrations weren’t over the top. From the BBC:

“He says he says, I’m not here to comment on his words the only thing I can say is that for me was just a question of diversity. Diversity in behaviors, diversity in education, just that and nothing more.”

In other words, Mourinho thinks he’s a bit classier. That and a bag of chips gets you a bag of chips on the table.

Pep: “Celebrations weren’t too much”

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Pep Guardiola is staying as close-lipped as possible when it comes to the post-match derby dust-up between his Manchester City and Manchester United on Sunday.

Reports say United boss Mourinho charged into the visitors locker room to protest loud celebrations following City’s 2-1 win at Old Trafford. For his troubles, he allegedly got milk thrown at him and City assistant Mikel Arteta ended up with a cut face.

[ MORE: Klopp responds to interview hubbub ]

Guardiola said the celebrations were his idea, and he doesn’t want to say much more about United’s reactions. From Sky Sports:

“I am the guy who encouraged each other to celebrate. What happened, happened. We will make statement to the FA. I am not going to comment about that. Celebrations were’t too much.”

“Everybody fought hard to win. We could have scored more goals. After the game we celebrated with the fans and went to the changing room and celebrated the win.”


He’d only elaborate by saying, in essence, you celebrate when you win and don’t when you lose, and that other teams celebrate winning in similar rivalries in similar fashion.

Now we await Mourinho. He’s a wild card, but with legal entities involved we wouldn’t be surprised to get little to nothing.

Report: FA Inquiry on Manchester Derby tunnel incident

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The FA is looking into what exactly happened in the minutes after the final whistle at Old Trafford on Sunday afternoon.

According to multiple reports in England, an altercation took place in the area outside the dressing rooms as Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho was not particularly happy with the way Manchester City players were celebrating their 2-1 victory. According to the Telegraph, Mourinho went to the visitors dressing room and asked the players to show more respect to the hosts.

[MORE: Prince-Wright’s Premier League picks]

Mourinho then reportedly ended up with a milk carton and water thrown at him while Manchester City assistant Mikel Arteta suffered a cut to his head.

Now the FA is looking into the situation and has reportedly asked Man United and Man City to submit their version of the events, as the altercation did not make it into referee Michael Oliver’s post-match report.

Tom Davies signs new five-year contract at Everton

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18-year-old midfielder Tom Davies has been a revelation since breaking through as a regular in the Everton first team this season.

Now he’s been rewarded.

Davies signed a new five-year contract on Monday as the England U-19 international capped off a stunning few months which has seen him hold down a regular starting spot in the Toffees’ midfield.

The local lad and academy product has been at the Goodison Park club since the age of 11 and is delighted to be following in the footsteps of other academy graduates such as Wayne Rooney and current teammate Ross Barkley.

“It means everything to me to get a chance to be in the Everton first team and to try to stay there,” Davies said. “Everton has a long tradition of bringing young players through and the incentive has always been there for me to try to progress with the club. I used to look at Mikel Arteta and aspire to be out there playing alongside my heroes and, obviously, Wayne Rooney and Ross Barkley who came through the Academy here, too, have been inspirational figures for me.”

Davies has made 16 appearances in the PL this season, scoring one goal against Manchester City and adding three assists and has impressed ever since he started in the Boxing Day win at Leicester City.

Alongside Mason Holgate, Matthew Pennington and Dominic Calvert-Lewin the energetic midfielder started in the Merseyside derby at Anfield against Liverpool at the weekend and his combination of poise on the ball and hard work off it has seen him slot in nicely alongside Idrissa Gueye.

His manager Ronald Koeman has never been afraid to give young players a chance to shine and he’s certainly found a gem in Davies who seems destined to be an England international and a star for Everton in the years to come.

Davies’ boss had the following to say about his rapid rise to the first team.

“He went straight into the team performing at a high level and has kept his feet on the ground,” Koeman said. “We’re really happy with his performances and, of course, proud. He’s a young player and that’s important for the rest of the Academy – to show you can make that next step like Tom did and, if that ends with a new contract, it’s perfect.”